Damien McGrane (Getty Images)
Damien McGrane leads after three day of the Trophée Hassan II, but Matteo Manassero is just one shot behind as the Italian seeks a second Masters Tournament appearance before his 19th birthday.
The 40 year old Irishman, whose only European Tour title came by nine shots in China four years ago, started the day three behind clubhouse leader Phillip Price but with 13 holes of his second round remaining after lengthy wind delays on Friday.
On his return to the Golf du Palais Royal course in Agadir McGrane birdied the seventh, ninth and tenth to pull level with former Ryder Cup hero Price, before two-putting the long 15th for birdie to take the outright lead.
He holed an important six footer at the last to confirm his halfway advantage, then mixed four birdies with three bogeys over the first ten holes of his third round to reach 12 under par.
That was one ahead of not only teenager Manassero, but also Spain’s José Manuel Lara, with Northern Irishman Michael Hoey a shot further back in fourth after a brilliant 65 – that despite missing a six foot par putt and bogeying the last.
“It was a nice way to finish the day with a birdie but I have to be honest and say that it was a bit of a mixed bag out there today,” said McGrane.
“Plenty of birdies and bogeys so not quite as good as the first two rounds. I have actually missed a few fairways out there in the third round and that is probably the easiest thing to do on this course.
“But I can’t complain too much – I am in the position you want to be going into the final day and hopefully I can get the job done. We’ll come back tomorrow and we will have a winner so hopefully that can be me.”
Manassero, needing a win to climb into the Official World Golf Ranking's top 50 and earn a place at the Masters Tournament in a fortnight’s time, was a brilliant six under through 14 holes.
The 18 year old, who impressed with a 36th-placed finish at Augusta National as a 16 year old, two-putted the long tenth for birdie, gained another shot with an approach to ten feet at the next then completed his hattrick with a two at the 199 yard 12th after an outward 33.
“It was a very good round for me,” said the Maybank Malaysian Open champion.
“I went out there trying to make no mistakes and not to leave any shots out there and it worked out to be a great 15 holes. I made a lot of birdies and a lot of good putts and I knew that I needed to do that. I knew that I needed to get to double figures at least by the end of the day to get into contention and that is the way it went.
“The dream is still alive and I have to try my best to make it happen. I am certainly going to try and win the event first and foremost to win the event and then if The Masters happens it would be amazing.
“I have to say that the extra prize of the Masters really helps me as well. It gives me extra motivation and I seem to play better in that kind of situation. I had a few months recently where I couldn’t get into contention but after last week and now this week it feels great to be playing well and having chances to win.”
The 34 year old Lara had carded a 65 to race into contention on Friday, and mixed three birdies with a single bogey over the first ten holes of his third round.
“It was a difficult day and it was tough conditions for the first few holes today but all in all I am still in a great position,” said the two-time European Tour winner.
“I just hit a bad drive in the 11th but overall I am happy to be 11 under and at the top of the leaderboard.
“I am playing well so I am trying to do the same things as I have been all week and hoping that it will be good enough tomorrow. Thankfully one thing is certain tomorrow - we won’t finish in the dark!”
Former Ryder Cup star Phillip Price, the overnight leader, had a disappointing start to his third round and missed putts from inside five feet on the fifth and sixth to turn in 39.
But a huge eagle putt at the tenth got the Welshman back to nine under, just three behind and with eight holes remaining.